UK Athletics’ recently appointed Head Coach Charles Van Commenee was welcomed to his role publicly in September, and despite an official start date of 1st February 2009, has already been immersed in his new duties.
In the last few days at UKA HQ he has been taking part in the series of in-depth discussions that will decide the shape the athletics programme will take over the next four years and reflecting on the lessons of Beijing, and more flying visits to the UK over the coming months will see him cram as much work as possible to prepare for his new role.
Speaking exclusively to E-Inspire, Van Commenee gave a hint of things to come for athletics in future months…
Van Commenee on… coaching
It would be silly of me to fly in and start implementing a blueprint for coaching straight away. Remember, I have been away for around four years now. The most important thing I can do right now is listen to the thoughts of some of the most experienced and respected coaches in the UK on how we can develop coaching.
What I can say is that there will be a much greater emphasis on coach development and coach education. It has been undervalued and even ignored in recent years and it must be our emphasis.
Van Commenee on… the outside looking in
I was the Chef de Mission for the Netherlands across all sports. So in Beijing I only spent one-and-a-half days in the athletics stadium. So I only really saw a fragment of the British team. You need to see the athletes in warm up too, to get a fuller idea. At the moment the performance team at UK Athletics are reviewing Beijing and I will take on board what comes out of that. But I know the results and I know the athletes too.
I was also in attendance at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, the 2006 European Championships in Gothenburg and the 2007 World Championships in Osaka so am familiar with the team. But in Beijing, the only direct contact I had was when I bumped into some of the athletes in the launderette in the athletes village! I saw Emma Ania, Phillips Idowu and Tasha Danvers, but only to say hello to.
Van Commenee on… the Olympic Games
I guess what I gained from working across other sports was confirmation of what it takes to be successful. No matter the sport, it always takes three elements; raw talent, proper coaching and commitment.
There are differences in the sports, athletics is a much more varied sport than canoeing or baseball. But you always find the same type of people who are successful; they have come on a long journey, have overcome difficulties, they are very committed and they have great coaches.
Van Commenee on… his out-going role
One of the things that makes me proud is the Dutch National Training Centre. Over the last decade it had decayed and athletes left the centre. With good systems and improved facilities, we have brought them back. There are now 12 sports and more than 100 athletes housed there. It is a five- star facility, with elite coaches working on elite programmes. Also, there are some particular sports like swimming and equestrian who I have helped put in place an elite programme and help them become successful.
I am also proud that I was someone who stood up for coaches and worked hard for them to gain greater recognition. For example, in the Dutch equivalent of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, there was never an award for the coach of the year. Now there is.
Van Commenee on… returning to UKA
I did not really aim to come back. But it is not a total surprise for me. It’s not as unlikely for me to go back in the UK as it might have been for me to work in Paraguay or Colombia. That would have surprised me! I worked with a lot of satisfaction in the UK before, so it is not a total surprise to be back. I intend to base myself in Birmingham for the first year, where I am central and can reach most athletes and coaches easily.
Van Commenee on… going forward
One big priority is to appoint the new Strategic Head of Coaching Development. When I arrive in February my main focus will be to spend time with athletes and coaches. I want to talk to people and listen to their needs and build successful relationships.